3 Simple Tips for the Busy Montessori Parent
I am a Mom. Not a teacher. Not an expert. And clearly not a child psychologist. I’m a Mom who loves her kids and does her best to help them navigate through this thing called life.
I mess up parenting (but hopefully not my children) every single day- in one way or another. When my oldest was a newborn and was screaming her head off in Target, I remember a kind, older lady telling my bewildered self, “You are the best and only mother your child will ever have.” That simple statement has been such an encouragement to me as our family rapidly grew from one to three children in a short 3 1/2 year time span. I have had every opportunity to throw my hands in the air, and every opportunity to dive deeper into figuring out how to take our home from crazy to calm (ish).
Here are my top three tips and techniques that have helped our children grow into amazing (I’m biased) people and have helped us maintain (some) sanity:
1. Time Ins
With three kids, a husband, three businesses, a career, a home, and a life to manage- I’m distracted. I could tell you that I’m fully focused and engaged 100% of the time, but it would not be true. I have a lot to do in a short period of time and my precious children’s behaviors often reflect that distraction. I realized early that I did NOT want to be the mom who sent their child to time out for responding to my distractedness or disengagement. I saw it as my fault and my responsibility – not theirs.
Enter the Time In.
When I notice one of my children starting to whine or get antsy, I intentionally stop everything I’m doing, and focus all of my attention on my child. We may do a puzzle or paint a picture or go for a walk, but it’s 100% their time, one-on-one, distraction free. Just today, my rambunctious almost 3-year-old followed me around with arms in the air and tears in his eyes. All he wanted was a snuggle and all I wanted was to accomplish the 18 things on my mental to-do list. I could have let this unravel even more, but instead I said the exact words “Drew, there is nothing more important than being with you right now.” And I meant it. We spent five intentional minutes reading a short story and tickling each other. His eyes filled with joy, the whining stopped, his arms wrapped around my neck with a warm hug, and then I moved on to the 18 items on my list. Instead of putting him in time out, we had a time in. His attitude turned from the typical terrible 2-year-old to the terrific 2-year-old we all love and adore.
2. Invitations to Engage
Just as a Montessori classroom is a prepared environment meticulously and masterfully planned for the needs of the child, so is my home. To reinforce the concepts I want them to learn, I create stations throughout our home that are waiting for them to choose to play and develop their practical life skills. My barely six-year-old may have stationary and a pen waiting for her to help conquer her birthday party thank you notes and work on social skills while my almost four-year-old may have a pile of Legos waiting to be sorted by color and size to reinforce his sorting and organizational skills. Our favorite activity is writing words or drawing shapes on the driveway with a paintbrush dipped in water. It is simple, practically free, relaxing, and completely engaging. They see a cup of water and a paint brush sitting on the driveway, and I see thirty minutes together outdoors reinforcing their spelling and fine motor skills.
I remember explaining this to a friend who thought I was absolutely crazy for creating these opportunities to engage. To her, I was planning my child’s life and selecting what they play with. She questioned how they would adjust as teens if I’m not there to plan their life and help them decide what to do. After spending a few hours in our home, she quickly changed her tune. I’m creating invitations to make memories and be creative, not invitations to control. My children are free to play with whatever they want, however they choose to play with it – as long as they are safe and respecting one another. We do not have the “I’m bored” or “I have nothing to play with” conversation because they are almost always intentionally engaged in something meaningful. Engaging in the intentional has become natural to them. As my daughter gets older, she finds great joy in creating opportunities for her younger brothers to engage and play. Just this morning she laid out bubbles knowing that her brothers would spend time giggling around the yard blowing bubbles and chasing them. And hey, if you need some baseboard cleaning help, a spray bottle of water and socks on the hands will be a fun game for your kids to play. They will be contributing to the cleanliness of your home environment while they measure baseboards, time themselves and learn how a clock works, and determine exactly which color the baseboards are – both before and after they are dusted.
3. Make Memories Every Day
My husband and I have intentionally decided that we will be consistent in creating routines and crafting the legacy we want our children to know us for. While the vacations, gifts, and big moments are obvious memory-makers, so are the little, day-to-day, repetitive routines that give our children physical safety and emotional security. Our kids know, without a shadow of a doubt, that we are praying on our way school, talking about how they helped someone today during our nightly family dinner, and that their bedtime routine is sacred to us. In creating predictable routines, we have created opportunities to make memories and celebrate joy in each and every day. Of course, our routines change or are nonexistent from time to time, but our kids are secure knowing that they are safe, cared for, loved, and in a stable home. The predictable routines have become precious moments for our family.
We also intentionally let it all go in the name of making memories. Going on a kayak ride, to the museum, or visiting with a friend all move up on the priority list as schedules go out the window. We will spend countless hours this summer together as a family searching for fireflies, discovering what an ocean is verses a lake, and figuring out the perfect knock-knock joke. These moments don’t cost a penny nor will they be trending on Facebook or Twitter, but they will be trending in the hearts and minds of our children for years to come. And for that, I will be thankful.
I hope these tips are encouraging to you. Know that you are the best parent your child will ever have. You are theirs and they are yours!
Sarah, I commend you for your wisdom and intelligence in capturing the spirit of Dr. Montessori’s brilliance in designing the way to allow children to learn. (After all, the truth is we really cannot “teach” anyone anything they don’t wish to learn.) She did this after becoming the first woman in Italy to become and MD. under the most unbelievably difficult circumstances. This led her to observe children’s natural behavior and, as the biblical admonition says, she “followed the child”; hence, the awesome results in the development of children who were fortunate enough to have parents who had the wisdom to see the value in this type of loving, open, supportive, enriched environment with freedom to allow their spirits to choose what they most needed.
Retired Montessori Teacher and School Owner
I am expecting my 4th child next month & as an early years practitioner love the ideas of Montessori but living in a 3 bed house (baby will share my room until 1 then with a sibling) we have 1 family room & 1 bathroom between 6 of us so I’m unsure how to create a calm uncluttered environment any advice would be much appreciated